‘Regifted’ by Eleventyseven

If you think punk rock bands can’t do Christmas music, you haven’t heard this.  But, who would think such a thing in the first place?

Of course, I have to start out with a story, so, let me get that out of the way.

Back when MySpace was big, these guys made a song about it.  Good song, by the way.  Anyway, in 2007 I went to a festive in Michigan called Big Ticket.  I had heard these guys were going to be there, so I wanted to wait around and hear that song.  No, they weren’t on the main stage.  In fact, they played in a tent for about 15-20 people (myself, of course, included).  Yea, I’ve been a fan of them ever since.  So when they wanted people to review their Christmas EP, I virtually raised my hand just waiting to be chosen.

So, let me begin!

I personally love these songs.  What songs are on it?  Well, let me tell you:

(Note: the order of the songs here are different than on iTunes, Amazon, etc.)

Angels We Have Heard On High-

It’s funny, really.  It sounds very…cheerful, and Christmas-y.  And then we’ve got this drum machine and other electronic sounds that makes it fit into what music is now-a-days.  They did such a great job of blending the classic elements with their own, which makes it have a more “edgy” Christmas feel.

Last Christmas-

Honestly, this makes me think of 80’s music.  And I love it.  First of all, let me just say, I love the tone of the vocals.  In fact, I just love his vocals in general (always have).  I love the effect on them in the verses.  I like fast tempos of this song usually, but the way they arranged everything they put into this song makes the tempo have an acceptable feel.  (I never made sense in my college papers, and I’m not about to start.  Maybe my confusion will get you to listen to the song so you’ll know what I’m trying to say, and you’ll realize that you like it?  Perhaps?)

Oh Come All Ye Faithful-

My favorite version of this song is done by Jeremy Camp, which is a long ways away from these guys.  I’m not saying I don’t like it though.  Can I tell you a funny story?  I listened to this song with my mom, and she goes, “Something’s wrong with it.”  She was talking about the drums at the very beginning.  They are not the same tempo as the vocals (which makes me think of the two most important questions for a band: Can your drummer play to a click?  And can he actually play?  Ba-dum-ch!  It’s just a joke my teachers always said).  But anyway, I laughed and answered her with, “That’s punk rock, Mom.”  She just doesn’t get it man.  But, moving on from that, I like it.  The electric guitar is what makes the song for me.  Whoever said, “Let’s make the vocal the right tempo and add some rockin’ electric guitar”, you are my friend (or at least, I wish you were).

Oh Holy Night-

AH!  My favorite Christmas song!  Favorite version?  I’m not sure, but I love it when this song is slow, and dark, and strong.  I mean, I love it when the singer has some power behind their vocals.  This one though?  It’s a little faster, it’s got this nice synth going, and some bells.  And then…bam.  The vocals.  We have some doubling going on.  High and low.  Aaaaand it’s awesome.  The egtr (electric guitar) playing its couple notes here and there in the first chorus?  I approve.  And then it gets faster and then I start head banging.  It’s a hit.  It’s still got the power I’m looking for too.  Their own power, which is a big plus.  And man, do I love Matt’s vocals!  Gah!  Always have.

Wonderful Christmastime-

Ok, first of all, you’ll definitely know what song this is from the first four notes.  At first I was thinking, “Did I click on Family Force Five’s version?”  And then I heard the drums and I was like, “Nope.”  Love this stuff!  This version is slower than FF5’s, which is nice.  I may or may not like this version more than theirs…just sayin’.  Why?  I like the slower tempo, and the fact that they didn’t put a lot of effects in it that FF5 did.  And what effects they did put in it (like the vocal effect after the fourth chorus), they were different.

Overall, if you like electronic music, or punk rock, or Christmas music, you should at least give it a listen (it would be great if you like a combination of two, or all three, like me).

I have always been a fan, I will always be a fan, and I really want to see them again.  Maybe someday with more than 15-20 people (maybe 115-20 thousand people, that would be great).

I know it’s still early, but, Merry Christmas everyone!

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‘The Upside of Down’ By Chris August

Chris August?  In the newspaper?  Yea, you could say I approve.  (Courtesy of The Tennessean, in which the article came from)

This is supposed to be a review of Chris’ latest album, but we all know I’m not the typical reviewer.  I have to give some background information, because I said so, and this is my blog.  I’m just letting you know that there is a review here…somewhere…

A little background info

Back in 2006 I discovered an artist named Brandon Heath.  Now, why am I talking about Brandon on a blog about Chris?  And why cna’t can’t I speel spell anything today?  You’ll find out…about Brandon, not about spelling.  So, let’s fast forward to 2010, when I moved to Nashville.  I found out that Brandon puts on a free concert every year, along with Jason Ingram.  Ok, no big deal, this doesn’t upset me at all.  A chance to see Brandon and Jason for free?  I’m cool with that.  During this time, there was a song on the radio called, “Starry Night.”  The only thing I knew was that this song was written and sung by a guy named Chris August.  Not Chair August, which I just typed out.  I can spell…really, I can.  But that was all I knew, I didn’t even know what he looked like (no, I did not Google or Facebook him).

So, a year later (“2011” said Captain Obvious), Brandon’s concert rolls around again.  Of course I’m already going, regardless of who is going to be there.  But then I find out Chris is going to be there.  May I remind you, the only thing I knew of this guy is that he sings, “Starry Night.”  Now, don’t get me wrong, “Starry Night” is a good song.  It just didn’t push me to look further into his album.  Quite honestly, I’m at that point where new artists are just making me mad because they all suck.  No, he doesn’t suck, I just didn’t want to buy an album with one good song on it.  Yes, I know that I could have listened the CD on-line, but I didn’t.

So Mom and I sit down and we’re ready for the show to begin.  Brandon’s there, Jason’s there, Kari Jobe is there, and then there’s this other random guy.  I can remember just staring at him.  Staring, thinking, “…Not what I was expecting.”  First of all, the glasses.  Artists don’t usually show that they wear them, so that surprised me.  What else surprised me?  I don’t know, I just wasn’t… To me, his voice didn’t match his look.  That’s all I’m trying to say.  And then he opened his mouth…to yawn.  Hey, it was 7 o’clock, maybe he was tired.  And then he sang.  I don’t remember what he sang.  “Starry Night” of course, but then he sang a new song called, “Amen” (which is on his second album).  I remember Mom and I looking at each other as she spoke the words I was thinking.  “We have to get his album.”  And we did.  I can’t tell you how much I listened to that thing.

Fast forwarding to now.  I got a LifeWay flyer and when I showed it to Mom, we immediately went to the nearest store.  “Pre order Chris August’s new CD” it read.  Four months later (at least it seems like it was that long), August 21st finally came (yes, Chris August put out his new album in August.  Well played).

Review Time!

Have you ever heard of the ‘sophomore slump’?  Well, this does not apply here at all.  The Upside Of Down, Chris August’s second album, is like No Far Away‘s big brother: same qualities, same features, more mature.  I see some similarities between the two, but I can also tell that Chris went that one step farther and took the music to another level (oh the clichés).  You want my short review?  Here it is:  His voice.  Alright, that’s it, you can leave now.  Or, here’s my longer review:

Center Of It-

Lyrically, it reminds me of “No Far Away”:

There’s no way to get far away from You (No Far Away)

When I rise, when I fall, You’ll be there through it all (Center Of It)

Except, it’s better (if that’s even possible).  It’s a great album opening.  I love the beginning, drums, electric guitar, nice grove.  The electric guitar has some great moments throughout this whole album, and it stars right off at the end of the first chorus.

The Upside Of Down-

Mmmmm, the piano and acoustic guitar.  And then the melody.  Mmmmm.  And the bass, I can actually hear the bass!  I love it all.  Musically, the construction and arrangement is so well put together and…smart.  Also, Chris sounds really good when he sings with himself…  Yes, I just said that.

Amen-

This is my mom’s favorite song on the album.  This is the song, people, the one that made my mom fall in love with him his voice.  This is it.  Now, let me tell you about it.  It’s very churchy.  Not like, hymn books open, monotoneally singing (actually, it’s monotonically, which I just learned thanks to my Mac’s dictionary), “Then sings my soul,” “Amazing Grace” type stuff.  No, this is the kind of song where you stand up and raise a hand and shout “Preach it brother” and “Lord Jesus, hallelujah!”  Chris didn’t seem to leave out the organ, which adds to the effect.  It’s the organ, man.  Let’s add a piano too.  Yes, let’s do that.  The “beat” of the song is so smooth and soulful in itself, and then to add Chris’ soulful vocals singing,

Amen, Amen, and the people said “Amen”

The troubles of this world are coming to an end

And all my brothers and my sisters, let me hear it again

The kingdom is coming, and the people said “Amen”

it’s bound to do something spiritual.  The bass adds that depth and fills in the bottom, while the electric guitar and the organ fill in the top (there’s that electric guitar again, showing off so beautifully).  It’s a very well-rounded song, instrumentation wise.

This Side Of Heaven-

This is my favorite song.  This is my “Amen.”  This song is my, ‘throw-my-hands-up-and-shrug’ song.  I’ll let Chris explain:

Everyone’s got their own opinions

There’s nothing they don’t know about

But in the end nobody’s winning

‘Cause nobody’s got it figured out

Oh the things we think we know, but honestly we really don’t

This is of Heaven

Save the worry, stop the hate, it doesn’t matter anyway

This side of Heaven

You can make your own decisions

You can write it on a sign

But when it feels like something’s missing

Listen up and I’ll tell you why

I love the guitar at the beginning.  It’s a very simple song.  I think that’s why I like it, because it is simple, but that means that a lot of the focus will be on the lyrics because there’s not much else going on.  Chris does a beautiful job of making those lyrics something to listen to though.  You have to be mindful about what you put into a simple song.  The music can’t be simple, and the lyrics be boring.  On the flip side, you can’t hide boring lyrics behind complex music.  Melodically, it’s simple, but beautiful.  It’s just a simple, beautiful, raw song.  Chris does a fantastic job of making these songs three things: raw, soulful, and heartfelt.  You can always tell they’re him, and they’re coming from him.  Sometimes I feel like artists these days are making songs based on what other people want.  Kids these days want an awesome beat, an electronic sound, and don’t care much about lyrics.  Chris seems to make music for God first, and himself second.  You know from song number one (on both albums) where his focus is in life.  And it’s the best feeling to know that that’s still out there.  That’s what I get from this song.

Restore-

You know how I said artists make songs based on what other people want?  Well, this is kind of one of those songs.  Except, I know that God would and does want people to hear this, so Chris is actually singing this on behalf of God.  God first.  And then, to know that Chris comes from a broken home (like myself, and many others, too many to be honest), he is singing this for himself:

I see you growing old together

I pray I find a love like yours

Chris has a song called “7X70” (“Seven Times Seventy“) which is a song about forgiveness:

Seven times seventy times, I’ll do what it takes to make it right

I thought the pain was here to stay

But forgiveness made a way

Well, people came up to Chris and told him how that song had saved their marriages.  So, Chris decided to write a song about that.

Nobody’s growing old together

We’ve made it easy just to quit

Makes me think of Hollywood.  Of course this may happen everywhere, but really?  People get married for 72 days, 3 months, 6 hours?  Dear Lord.

Anyway, the song opens up with an acoustic guitar, and this vocal effect that makes him sound…um…er…soft…  Or what have you.  Beautifully soft.  The drums come in at the chorus.  Beautiful drums, and piano.  As the song goes on, more elements are added, so when you get to the second chorus, it’s big and positive and…yes.  (Side note: I hope my production papers never sounded this…weak.  It’s amazing I passed any of my classes with the way I write.  Thank you Jesus).

Let There Be Light-

This song here reminds me of “Want To Be Real”:

I’ve never said this before, I’ve never opened that door so wide

No one else is around, there’s no good reason for me to hide (Want To Be Real)

I’m tired of secret keeping, living in the dark

I’m ready to say the words you were speaking, back at the start (Let There Be Light)

It’s like a grown up version of “Want To Be Real.”  Seriously, that’s how I feel.  And yet, it’s a totally different song.  You know how some artists write the same song over and over on every single one of their albums, same message different format, and it starts to get really boring after a while because you know and you come to expect it, and when you find it you just roll your eyes and say, “Not again”?  Well, Chris did that, except, it’s different.  In fact, I rolled my eyes and said, “Ugh, you’re too good at this!”  I can’t say it’s just as beautiful, or more so, because “Want To Be Real” is one of my favorite songs from his first album, especially the melody.  It’s funny because there is one spot in this song where the melody is very close to the melody of “Want To Be Real.”  But this song is so different, so I can’t really compare them, I can only say it reminds me of it.  I-…I’m done trying to explain myself. Moving on.

The melody for this song is so much fun to sing.  It’s up and down (that’s what melody is, a series of pitches one right after the other), and fun.  I like how the beginning allows you to know the message of the song.  Chris kind of put that right there in the beginning, and the instrumentation allows that to come through, then it emphasizes the rest of what he’s trying to say.  Gives it some depth.  Backs him up.  (I’m wondering how many people will actually understand what I’m trying to say…)

I Believe-

Ah!  This one!  Oh the beginning!  Look at how excited I am!  Brandon Heath’s “Love Never Fails.”  The guitar is the same!  Or rather, the tone.  Kind of.  Not really, but that’s the first thing I thought of when I heard it.  And then he sings, and makes the song his own.  How does he do that?!  Oh, there’s nothing I can say.  If you like soul, if you like feeling, if you like heart and honesty, ugh, this song.  When you get to the chorus, and his vocals are doubled…I’m in Heaven.  Just…gorgeous.  Gosh, you just know he’s singing it to God.  You just know.  Second verse, add some drums and a little organ, and more doubled vocals.  Oh, so beautiful.

If you had some heartache, made you cry a thousand tears

Let me tell you now, I know just how you feel

And the heavyweight of sorrow that you’ve carried for so long will soon be gone

‘Cause I believe that there is something more than I can see

I believe that there is someone holding on to me

Sometimes I won’t feel it, but that don’t change a thing

‘Cause it’s by faith that I believe

I can see churches singing this.  The music reminds of something a church would play.  And, it’s a great church message, because believing through faith is an enormous part of believing in God.  Faith is so hard to grasp, believing in something you don’t see.  It takes a lot of faith to have faith.

I don’t need a rainbow, to know who made the rain

Don’t need the waters parted to know who made the way

I don’t need a healing to know who is the cure

Of this I’m sure

1989-

Summer days, seven years old and I

Took a ride on my bicycle

I can still feel my face against the wind

So it starts off with just the acoustic, but then it gets into the pre-chorus, and now the drums sound like something Brandon has (“Sunrise,” it has to be).  It’s a story song too, which I think is pretty cool for Chris to do.  Sure, “7X70” is a story song, but at least this one is a little happier.  One thing I like about this is how the drums come in, and then they go away, and then they come back in again.  It was weird at first, but then I got used to it.  This song is all about seeing life with child-like faith.  I love that perspective, probably because that’s where I am right now.  I’m not saying that I grew up with a terrible childhood, but it was a complicated one, and I never felt like I could live as a child.  But I can see that I am very much a child now.  One of my favorite lines is:

God You’re great just because You’re great

It is so uncomplicated with You here

You make the person that I once was reappear

Unashamed Of You-

This is kind of like “I’m Gonna Sing,” because they’re both worship songs.  Except this one is faster and more fun (the tempo could be similar to “It’s Always Been You“).  Chris has made me so very happy that he put this kind of song on his album.  It’s so get-up-on-your-feet-and-dance-y.  I don’t know whether his voice fits with the music, or the music fits with his voice.  I don’t care, it just all fits together.  When you sing along you feel so good.  It’s a great, spiritually uplifting song.

I will sing about Your love

I will shout it to the sky

A Little More Of Jesus-

I could use a little more Jesus

And little bit less of me

Chris brings it down a little bit, to something that just sways and…I can’t really say much, except that it puts a smile on face to imagine Chris calming down for a second to record something so beautiful.  Not that he can’t be calm or anything…

Let The Music Play-

This is a line from “You And I“:

Let the music play, it’s time to start the dancing (You And I)

But, in this song, Chris picks up the tempo and gets some R&B going.  Am I detecting a hint of JT inspired vocals?  Hm?  I don’t mind one bit.  Mmm, the melody.  So moving and…you know how when you listen to something good and you get that look on your face that makes people think you smell something funny, when really you’re just so into it?  I get that look a lot when I listen to this.  The beat, the electric guitar, the vocals (doubling and background).  You can tell Chris was into this one.  I’m talking “Rock Your Body” mixed with “Cry Me A River.”  And who doesn’t love JT?

Water Into Wine-

So Chris starts off with a little “In Your Presence,” Jeremy Camp intro.  I must say, that is one of my top 5 favorite songs of his (Jeremy’s), and to have this intro sound like it makes this song that much more awesome.  Also sounds like “Love Never Fails,” but more like Jeremy’s.

I’ve been runnin’ round in circles

But I can’t do this on my own

To be so far away from perfect

That’s all I’ve ever known

It’s so real and honest.  It’s one of those songs you sing that’s just between you and God.  It puts you right in His presence.  It’s so applicable to anyone, maybe even everyone, at one time or another.  It’s simple and heartfelt and to the point.  I am unable to say much more about this song, to be honest.  Just, the visualization of Jesus turning us from water into wine is so personal and touching.  There are no words I can use to describe the feeling it gives me.

Meant To Be-

Let’s take a love song (“Loving You Is Easy“) and add a female voice (“Winter Time“) and make it new.  How does he do that?!  Yes, it’s a love song.  Yes, it’s beautiful.

What makes this right will make no sense

It’s like a planned coincidence

While all good things come to an end

This is just the start where it all begins

He has such a way with words.  I just love it.  It’s a little on the slower side, but it’s so cute that way.  He’s just so cute.  I did not just say that.

Truth Is Still True-

I love this song.  What a great song to end this album with.  It’s another one where it puts you face to face with God, and it’s a worship song.  One thing I love about Chris’ worship songs is that they aren’t focused on praising God just for the sake of praising Him.  We should praise Him because He is God, and he deserves it, but sometimes that’s just not enough for people.  Chris always adds a reason as to why he is worshiping God.  And how he feels at that time, and what feelings he had that brought him to that place and what led him to write those words.  There are worship songs out there that are just words, feelings from someone who didn’t share what got them to that place.  It’s like someone saying, “I love you” but the other person doesn’t understand the depth of that because they don’t know if it really does have any depth at all.  Chris comes to God with so much emotion and knows that God knows and understands, but still has this love for Him to share himself with Him.  God already knows, but Chris wants to get it out because… he loves Him.  He knows that’s what God wants and he loves Him so much that he just wants to give it all back.

I sing, oh I sing

I sing Your name, though it seems it’s all in vain

I know, and I know

No matter how I feel, I know Your truth is still true

I love the second verse.

What good is the lie that I got it all figured out, I got it all figured out?

Oh what good is pretending that I’m not wrecked with doubt

When I’m wrecked with doubt?

The intimacy of this song puts me in a place of gratitude that God’s truth will always be true, no matter what.

You will not be shaken by my faith or unbelief

•••

My extensive, elaborate review turned into a bumbling mess.  As you can tell towards the end I just couldn’t speak anymore.  Ask me to describe Thousand Foot Krutch, or The Afters, or Neon Trees, and I will have no problem.  Ask me to describe Chris August, and I just…can’t.  I realize that music I can’t describe has one thing in common: God’s presence.  I’m so moved by Chris.  I’m so moved by God through Chris.  This album even hits me in a more mature spot.  It’s kind of like I know God at a higher level.  Very few albums can take me to a place where I forget about the world.  There is so much here, there is so much depth that I could talk about, but I won’t, because there are so many words that would get lost in my inability to speak.  I’d rather be quiet and live in the moment than try too hard and fail.

I can’t wait to see him this December (two days after my birthday).  Him and Brandon Heath and TobyMac and Group One Crew and a few other people.  It’s going to be amazing.  I have no idea what songs he’s going to play, and I can’t wait to find out.  I can’t wait to find God again.  Anew.

‘Ctrl’ By Derek Webb

When I first saw this guy live, it was 2011 at a Christian festival in Kentucky, called Ichthus.  I’ll give you a little background on how I found out about him:

I discovered Brandon Heath in 2009 when his first single came out.  I looked him up and found out that in ’08 he did a concert with Derek Webb (among others).  Later on, I found out about a site called NoiseTrade.  Somehow, after that, I realized that Derek had a hand in forming it, so when I found out that he was going to be performing at Ichthus, I knew I had to see him.  I knew nothing about him.  Only that he had played a show with one of my favorite Christian artists, and that he was involved with this awesome site I had just discovered.

It was a good thing that he mentioned that he didn’t like being labeled a “Christian singer” and that. “Christian” music shouldn’t really be labeled that way.  They’re just Christians making music.  Why was it a good thing?  Because he wasn’t the cookie-cutter ‘Christian singer’.  He really stirred up this one guy.  But Derek had a great comeback though.  And I loved it.  I wanted to give him a big high-five and a ‘yea’ and a ‘woo hoo’.  He definitely made me feel alright about my own rebellious ways.  I finally found someone who wasn’t afraid of Christians and their labels and their standards.

Now, onto the reason of this post.

His music is quite artistic and truthful and straightforward.  ‘Ctrl’ is no different.  The instrumentation is crazy good, and the effects and tones match and move the feeling forward in each song.  Acoustic, yet, with a twist.  I don’t know what kind of twist, but whatever it is, it works.

My favorite song on this album is “I Feel Everything.”  I love the effect he has on his vocals, and the acoustic guitar adds to the mood of the song.  And the lyrics, “I cannot hear because I hear everything.  I cannot see because I see everything.  I cannot feel because I feel everything.”  It’s pretty simple, but how true.  Seriously, just think about it for a minute.

Another song I like is “Reanimate.”  Again, the acoustic guitar!  I love it.  I’m a sucker for a voice and an acoustic guitar.  And then the drums come in.  Very simplistic, yet again.  Derek does a great job vocal wise, with the melody.  I just love how simple it is, but the feeling of it really brings it all together.

Anyway, I could go on and on.  But truthfully, it is definitely something that I can see myself listening to when I need to feel inspired.  It just has that inspiring aura surrounding it, deep within each note and chord and instrument and melody.  I just really love it.

The picture is the album cover of ‘Ctrl’ by Derek Webb